I don’t think I’m the only young Christian who can get bummed out by the word “sanctification.” Once I get over how smart I sound saying a word that could get me at least 22 points in Scrabble, I feel a sort of mild anxiety. There are times when I’m left with the feeling I used to get when my mom told me to clean my room. Something like, “Yeah, I know it has to happen, but can’t I do something a little more… fun?”
So often, I think Christians look at the process of God making us like him and the putting off our temptations as some tedious chore in the Christian life. We approach the topic of overcoming our sins and embracing holiness almost begrudgingly, as if it were some task we’re obligated to undertake.
However, God’s Word calls us to live in a manner that pleases him by following his will, and God’s will involves us being made more like him. That what sanctification means; it’s God removing the sin in our lives and making us holy. In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Paul writes:
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
God wants us to be his holy children and he delights in our following him. That should excite us! By his goodness and grace, we have an opportunity to please and bring joy to the God of the universe. What pleasure or joy could be greater? What accomplishment holds more value? This feeling of obligation that I sometimes feel at the thought of sanctification is foolishness. That feeling really is a desire to live for myself. It’s my believing the lie that a life of fulfilling my own fleeting passions will bring me more joy and purpose than the pursuit of a holy and eternal God.
God doesn't abandon us.
Paul follows this statement that God is pleased in our sanctification with a plea that we, as the Church, should abstain from sexual immorality and that we learn how to control our bodies. Mastering our desires is a crucial step in our sanctification and our mastery of it pleases God. Paul writes that our sexual sin hurts those around us. Our sexual sin serves and pleases only our own sinful desires. It is a physical form of accepting the lie that our fleeting passions will bring us more joy than serving God.
Paul continues with a sobering, yet beautiful point: God has called us to holiness and not impurity. When we disregard this truth and embrace sexual sin, we’re not only hurting those involved, but we go against God as well.
However, God gives us his Spirit to help us. God doesn’t tell us that we need to be holy and leave us to do it alone; God is the one who grows us because it brings him glory and joy. God is with us and for us! If you wrestle with sexual sin, God offers you the greatest hope and joy you could ever find, and he promises to never forsake or abandon you. If you find spiritual growth chore-like and tedious, ask God to help you see sanctification for what it really is: worshipping and bringing glory to God by growing and maturing in a way that brings him joy.
We are called to be holy because we are God’s people and our sanctification pleases God. We should find joy in pressing on in sanctification for his glory!
This week, consider these questions: What gets in the way of God working out sin in your life? Are there sins or places in your life that you're holding back from God? Can any of these things ever really offer you what God offers you?
Christian Holmes is a senior InterVarsity student at Christopher Newport University, where he majors in Philosophy. This post is part of a ten-week series where students across the country are studying and reflecting on 1 & 2 Thessalonians this summer.